Fear of blackout
The specter of blackouts is haunting the nation as unseasonably hot temperatures push people to turn on air conditioners and electric fans. The electricity reserve plummeted to 3.16 million kilowatts Thursday afternoon, below the 4 million kilowatt threshold that obliges the government to issue initial emergency alerts.
The Ministry of Knowledge Economy convened a meeting Friday to discuss a request by the Korea Electric Power Corp. (KEPCO) to raise electricity rates by an average 13.1 percent. During the meeting, the participants shared the view that a rise in electricity charges is inevitable in consideration of the possible power outage but have dropped it for the time being.
They asked KEPCO to submit a new rate plan but experts see the rate rise as a fait accompli. It is generally expected that electricity charges for industrial and residential use will be raised by 5 to 7 percent and 2 to 3 percent, respectively, and this will happen before July so the rate rise could help dampen demand.
The government should be blamed for the latest fiasco in the power supply mismatch. The nation’s power generation capacity amounts to about 79 million kilowatts but the actual power production remains at 67 million kilowatts due largely to the suspension of some power plants for various breakdowns. Unit 1 of the Gori nuclear power plant and unit 4 of the Uljin nuclear power plant have been out of operation since March and last September, respectively, owing to faulty components. We know corrupt deals are behind the malfunctions.
Most problematic is that there is no good way to cope with the latest energy crisis imminently except begging the public to join the drive to conserve energy. Last week, the government launched a nationwide campaign to encourage people’s participation in the drive but it would be hard to expect practical effects unless consumers feel the need to cut electricity use and join the campaign voluntarily.
What should be done at the moment is for the government to come up with a viable long-term energy supply and demand blueprint that reflects our real energy situation. In any respect, it would be absurd that our electricity rates remain at one third of those in Japan. Korea’s annual oil import bill currently surpasses $100 billion.